No, Merrick Garland Can't Save America From Donald Trump | Opinion

In their first few hearings, the committee investigating Jan. 6 has done a masterful job laying out a clear and indisputable case that former President Donald Trump headed a criminal conspiracy that led to a deadly coup attempt that tried to overturn the results of a free and fair election. But the tragic truth is, thanks to the work Republicans in Congress did last year to defeat a non-partisan 9/11-style Commission, the committee is basically powerless to do anything more about the explosive criminal plot they have spent a year uncovering.

The responsibility to hold Trump and those who conspired with him accountable falls to one man alone: Attorney General Merrick Garland. Just as with Special Counsel Robert Mueller before him, tens of millions of Americans are now anxiously following Garland's every word in hopes that, for the first time, someone will finally hold Trump accountable for his actions and stand up to protect our democracy and the rule of law. And as with Mueller, millions of Americans are hoping that, based on overwhelming evidence, Garland can finally take down Trump and, in doing so, put a stake through the heart of Trumpism.

But the truth is that Garland, just like Mueller, cannot save us.

Merrick Garland
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland listens to a question during a press conference on June 13, 2022, in Washington, DC. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Because this is no longer about just Trump. Trump's election lies opened Pandora's box, and even indicting Trump at this point won't close it. For today's Republican Party, parroting Trump's lies about the 2020 elections is the price of admission.

A recent eye-opening investigation by The Washington Post proves this point in stark fashion. The Post examined the results of the Republican primaries to date and found that, "district by district, state by state, votersin places that cast ballots through the end of May have chosen at least 108 candidates for statewide office or Congress who have repeated Trump's lies. The number jumps to at least 149 winning candidates — out of more than 170 races — when it includes those who have campaigned on a platform of tightening voting rules or more stringently enforcing those already on the books, despite the lack of evidence of widespread fraud."

And, as the Post points out, we are only one-third of the way through the primary season, so these numbers are likely going to rise. Republican election deniers and Capitol rioters will now be in positions of power from Congress to secretaries of state, the officials responsible for administering the 2024 election.

And even if the attorney general wanted to act on Trump, time may be running out.

Given the long-standing Department of Justice precedent of not taking political action close to an election — with one notable exception — even if Garland did want to indict Trump — a very big if — it would likely happen late this year or sometime next year, long after Trump has already declared his candidacy for 2024, at which point nearly half the country would view any such indictment through the lens of the 2024 campaign, not the strong legal case to convict. That's a fact Trump no doubt knows and will exploit by announcing his campaign sooner rather than later.

There was a moment in history — in the hours and days after the bloody Jan. 6 insurrection — where true accountability was possible. For a fleeting moment, it looked as though the Republican Party was ready to purge itself, and the nation, of Trump and his lies. But that moment didn't last even two weeks. Instead of joining with Democrats to immediately impeach and convict Donald Trump and prevent him from ever running for office again, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delayed impeachment, allowing Trump and his allies to organize against it and giving cowardly Republican senators the excuse that Trump was out of office as a reason not to convict him when the trial was eventually held.

History will harshly judge Senate Republicans who cynically chose power over principle and shut the door on our best, and likely only, chance at true accountability for Trump for his criminal behavior.

Garland should not make the mistake Senate Republicans did. He should absolutely indict Trump, regardless of the political consequences. Not doing so would set a dangerous precedent and allow the dark forces seeking to undermine our democracy to grow stronger and more powerful.

But the cancer Trump thrust upon the nation has metastasized. It has overtaken the entire Republican Party. And an attorney general can't save us from that. Only voters can.

Gordon is a Democratic strategist and co-founder of UpShift Strategies who has worked on numerous federal, state, and local campaigns and on Capitol Hill. He is on Twitter at @dgordon52.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.